1980s

Jim Pickard

Three decades before the MPs expenses scandal hit the House of Commons, Margaret Thatcher was acutely aware of the need to avoid any impression of lavish spending. The then prime minister insisted on using her own crockery at 10 Downing St as well as her own ironing board: truly the “Iron Lady”. She sent back unwanted bed linen saying “we only use one bedroom“, according to official papers kept at the National Archives in Kew.

According to the papers, released today for the first time, Thatcher wrote the memos on blue felt-tip pen after maintenance costs at Downing Street were published in response to a question by a Labour MP. The total cost of refurbishments had come to £1,836 and the prime minister’s aides were worried that this might prompt public disapproval. (Some would say the spending, even with inflation, was relatively modest compared to David Cameron’s recent £64,000 upgrade). Read more